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Has sex work started to become 'socially acceptable'?

is woman thinks so
By Nisha Lilia Diu, www.telegraph.co.uk (http://getpocket.com/redirect? url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.telegraph.co.uk%2Fwomen%2Fsex%2F10730298%2FSexwork-has-it-become-sociallyacceptable.html%3Fplacement%3DCB4) View Original (http://getpocket.com/redirect? url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.telegraph.co.uk%2Fwomen%2Fsex%2F10730298%2FSexApril 3rd, 2014 work-has-it-become-socially-acceptable.html%3Fplacement%3DCB4)

Melissa Gira Grant, a sex worker-turned-author, has written a book calling for her former colleagues to have employment rights. Nisha Lilia Diu meets her and is pretty frightened - but quite persuaded.

Melissa Gira Grant, author of Playing the Whore Photo: Noah Kalina Photo by: Melissa Gira Grant, author of Playing the Whore Photo: Noah Kalina

Melissa Gira Grant's new book Photo by: Melissa Gira Grant's new book

Melissa Gira Grant can be quite scary. e fact that she once worked in an S&M dungeon it was in a house on a residential block in the suburbs of a major American city, according to her new book, Playing the Whore

(http://http:/www.telegraph.co.uk/women/sex/10689288/Sexmemoirs-Bondage-daddies-and-sci- -sex-work-Tart-litde nitely-isnt-dead.html) is not wholly surprising after youve met her. In the low-ceilinged attic boardroom of her London publishers, rain blurring the view on to the streets of Soho below, her st strikes the table. She is always, without fail, asked how she became a sex worker and shes angry about it. Why do you want to know? she demands, blue eyes icy with rage. Why is this important to you? I think people nd it hard to understand, I say. Making the decision to sell sex is a step a lot of people cant imagine taking. I think people ask out of a desire to understand. I think its a desire to objectify, she res back. Needless to say, Playing the Whore is not a memoir. Its an extremely persuasive call for employment rights for sex workers and, as such, it contains only the barest bones of Gira Grants biography: she grew up in Boston and was a sex worker for 10 years. She worked as a webcam girl, in the red light district in San Franciscos North Beach and in the aforementioned S&M dungeon where several men would telephone, at least once a day, to ask to come and clean. (e women would just turn them loose on the dishes, she says.)


Francisco's North Beach red light district (Flickr.com)

She did this work for money. When I ask her what makes women not sell sex, she answers like a shot: other employment that they prefer. Gira Grant is 36 now and a full-time writer (http://http:/melissagiragrant.com/). She lives in Brooklyn and is a rare voice in the depressingly polarised debate about prostitution laws. She resists being corralled, as she puts it in her book, onto either the exploited or the empowered side of the stage. (Is this why we want to know sex workers stories? So we can categorise them as tragic victims or feminist heroines?) Instead, she talks about shades of grey.

eres a tendency for sex workers to feel they can only say positive things about sex work because any negative thing they say is twisted against them. But, she says, maybe someones escorting and they dont like it. Maybe theyre just doing it for now because its the best thing in front of them. A socially acceptable face of sex work is emerging, she says. at narrative of, oh, I just love this and its so fantastic. I think to the extent that you hew to that narrative and are perceived as someone who had choice and power then people will say, well, then I guess I can support that. But those same people will say really negative things about people who work on the streets. Why does she think that is? Class. Race. Gira Grants view is that all sex workers should have the support, respect and protection of the law regardless of how and why they entered the industry.


Grant's book

In Europe, discussions about prostitution are being dominated by a single question: should we implement the Nordic model? is system decriminalises the selling of sex but makes buying sex a criminal oence. Sweden adopted it in 1999, Norway and Iceland have followed suit and a number of countries, including the UK, are seriously considering it. (At the moment our laws allow the buying and selling of sex but criminalise all the surrounding activities: soliciting, brothel-keeping, kerb-crawling and so on.) I recently spent some time in Germany, where prostitution has been completely legal since 2002. I came to the conclusion that the German model, with its barely-regulated mega-brothels, escort apps and virgin auctions (http://http:/s.telegraph.co.uk/graphics/projects/welcome-toparadise/) - not to mention a police force hamstrung by the porous line between managing prostitutes and exploiting them, is enabling more harm than the Nordic one. But its a choice between a rock and a hard place.


in Cologne, is Europe's biggest brothel. (Albrecht Fuchs)

Its kind of a legal ction to think we can only criminalise one part of a transaction, says Gira Grant of the Nordic model. In Sweden, she adds, sex workers aren't regarded as criminal but theyre not regarded as workers either. So theyre not able to access bene ts that other workers can. eyre not equal in society because theyre participating in a criminal activity, even if they themselves arent criminal. Some people feel this is as it should be: that the law should take a moral stand against the buying and selling of sex. at means killing people, says Gira Grant. To say, were going to prohibit this behaviour to express our moral distaste for it, is also saying, we approve of the violence that will result from criminalisation. It doesnt take much to realise that sex workers operating under the Nordic model will hesitate to reach out to the authorities, if it means putting their only source of income at risk. And that means people who have been assaulted or want treatment for drug addiction or help nding another job, will slip through the cracks. In countries where sex workers themselves are criminalised, the indierence to their suering can be striking. Gira Grant tells me about a sex worker in Philadelphia who was attacked by a customer in full view of a police ocer. e ocer intervened and took her to the police station, at her request, to report her assailant. en he left because it wasnt his precinct. And the police who actually worked there said to her, youre the one who we should be locking up for this. And they refused to take her report. Her attacker went on to assault other people in the community and is now on trial for murder.
Police lm a raid on a brothel in Birmigham in 2013

Earlier this year I talked to Chris Armitt, the national police lead on prostitution for England and Wales. An individual who brutally rapes someone on a street corner is someone who is predisposed to vicious, violent sexual attacks, he said. Its a well-established pattern for people

who attack sex workers to go on to attack other members of the population. ese are high-risk individuals and we need to get them o the streets, Armitt told me. His force has pioneered whats become known as the Merseyside model (http://http:/www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/rt-honmrs-theresa-may-mp-make-the-merseyside-hate-crime-model-ofpolicing-prostitution-law-uk-wide). Instead of arresting sex workers, the police maintain communication with them so they can be quickly alerted to violent pimps, punters and sex trackers. When sex workers are attacked, the Merseyside police treat the matter as a hate crime and prosecute determinedly. Supporters of the Nordic model (http://http:/www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womenspolitics/10591588/Prostitution-Can-European-Parliament-call-ahalt-to-it.html) talk about the normative eect it has on society, by establishing the idea that buying sex is wrong. I put it to Gira Grant that the Merseyside models ferocious prosecution of violence and tracking carries an equally powerful message about what society judges unacceptable. Yes, she agrees, but its challenging when the police are themselves a source of so much of that violence. If sex workers experience of the police is harassment, its going to take a lot a lot to turn that relationship around. Why, when sex work is so dicult and dangerous, do people still choose to do it? Its not usually a choice between sex work and some other great job, says Gira Grant. e kinds of service jobs that many sex workers have held before doing sex work are jobs where you do not have full time employment, you have to maintain a exible schedule, where you are living in a homeless shelter because you dont earn enough to support yourself. Or maybe its someone who is sick and cant work anymore. Or sex work is the rst time theyve had any control over the hours that they work. And maybe they want that to actually have a life outside of work. Sex work seems like a horrible job to me. Personally I dont love the idea of people buying and selling sex. But what happens between consenting adults is really none of my business. And besides, we cant wish away poverty (there will always be people who would rather sell sex than starve) and we cant wish away human nature (there will always be people who are lonely, lazy, inadequate or paraphiliac enough to buy it). e question is: what are we going to do about it? Playing the Whore by Melissa Gira Grant is 8.99 and available on Amazon. (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Playing-Whore-Work-SexJacobin/dp/1781683239/?&tag=rnwap-20)